Date: October 25th, 2016 (Event)
On the eve of 2008's presidential election, Dr. Beverly Tatum watched the results stream in with hundreds of students at Spelman College, patiently - and nervously - waiting to see if the greatest racial barrier would be broken fifty years after the promise that "People will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Almost a decade after the election of President Barack Obama, Dr. Tatum asks:
"Are things getting better?"
Dr. Tatum is a renowned psychologist and the president emerita of Spelman College, one of America's oldest historically black colleges for women. She's especially known for her books, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" and "Can We Talk About Race?", which have inspired generations of students and scholars to consider the psychological effects of racial identity development.
As Dr. Rob Sellers, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost at University of Michigan put it, "Beverly has had two great moments of impact: As an academic leader at Spelman, bringing great growth and innovation, and as a successful researcher and author in socialization, identity development, and intergroup relations."
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Dr. Tatum's original publication, she's releasing the 2017 version, "Why Are All the Black Kids Still Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?". She spoke to a crowd of over 300 students, faculty, and staff from the University of Michigan and as part of the Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center's biennial conference, asking the question why - in an age where we've seem to made so many legal and political advances - do patterns of racial segregation still exist?
Dr. Tatum discussed how continued patterns of segregation create constant and significant disadvantage, because, while "The past 20 years may have created opportunities for some families, for the vast majority of black and Latino families, it's been a downward slide." While older generations have seen enormous progress since their youth, younger generations have mainly grown up in a racial climate of mostly symbolic advances, with little decline in persistent patterns of educational, social, and residential segregation, which "Continues to be the linchpin to America's system of racial exclusion."
So, "Are things getting better?" If you're part of Dr. Tatum's generation, the answer may be yes. But if you're a student or coming of age, the answer is much less certain. "Public schools are more segregated now than in the 1980s, except in the West," Dr. Tatum said, and racial barriers continue to strengthen, especially in a growing era of socioeconomic insecurity across the nation. This has led to the development of a "Color-silenced culture, where we've learned to avoid talking about the racialized patterns of behavior in every aspect of our life," further complicating our ability to address these issues as a society.
But Dr. Tatum offers a hopeful vision of the future through dialogue, and encourages leaders and activists everywhere to promote open communication so we can better understand how to reverse patterns of segregation. As the keynote speaker for the concurrent Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center's conference, she worked with scholars and leaders across the nation to develop more dialogic cultures and resources across campuses, so that the next generation can answer that, "Yes, things are getting better."